Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Third Report

1 Introduction

Historical background

1. The Foreign Affairs Committee last reported on the Western Balkans in March 2001, in the wake of the revolution in Belgrade in October 2000 which toppled the Slobodan Milosevic regime.[1] Events since then have included the acceptance of Croatia as a candidate country for the European Union, progress towards the construction of a viable state in Bosnia and Herzegovina, major steps towards the resolution of the crisis in Macedonia and the adoption of the greater part of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, the opening of the trial of Milosevic in the Hague, the assassination of Serbia's Prime Minister Zoran Djindic in March 2003, and the March 2004 riots in Kosovo.

2. As part of our inquiry, we travelled to the region, visiting Sarajevo, Belgrade, Skopje and Pristina, where we met a wide range of politicians, administrators, soldiers, diplomats, economists, academics and journalists. We were fortunate to meet Boris Tadic, President of Serbia, Vojeslav Kostunica, Prime Minister of Serbia, Ibrahim Rugova, President of Kosovo, Bahram Rexhepi, then Prime Minister of Kosovo, and Hari Kostov, then Prime Minister of Macedonia. We held oral evidence sessions on 12 October 2004 with Dr Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute, Gabriel Partos of the BBC World Service, Professor James Pettifer of the Conflict Studies Research Centre at the UK Defence Academy, and Dr David Chandler from the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster. On 19 October we took evidence from Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, the international community's High Representative (HR) and European Union (EU) Special Representative (EUSR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and on 26 October Dr Othon Anastasakis, of St Antony's College, Oxford, Dr Nicholas Whyte from the International Crisis Group, and the author and Balkans analyst Mr Misha Glenny. On 31 November we heard evidence from the Minister for Europe, Dr Denis MacShane, and Karen Pierce, from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's (FCO) Eastern Adriatic Department. Our final witness, on 13 January 2005, was Norway's Permanent Representative to NATO, Kai Eide, who wrote a report outlining a potential strategy for Kosovo after the March riots on the request of the UN Secretary General. We also received many written submissions to our inquiry and held a number of informal meetings with the ambassadors from the states of the Western Balkans and other interested parties.

3. We are most grateful to those who gave us oral and written evidence, and to those who gave us information more informally. We would like to express our thanks to the FCO staff in the region for putting together comprehensive programmes in each state and for all their help with the logistics of the programme. We also appreciate the hard work of FCO officials who responded to our requests for information quickly and efficiently.

Reasons for inquiry

4. The Western Balkans lies on the crossroads between Europe and the Middle East, marking a fault line between Islam and Christianity, and between Orthodox and Catholic Europe. The region plunged into conflict with the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991, until the interventions by the international community, in Bosnia in 1995, in Kosovo in 1999, and in Macedonia in 2001 brought an uneasy peace to the region. The spectre of instability lingers on, in high unemployment rates, strong nationalist politics and unresolved border and intra-state disputes.

5. The United Kingdom and its EU partners have a strong interest in the stability of the region. The FCO said in a submission to the inquiry: "In its destabilising impact in the region, organised crime in the Western Balkans has a direct impact on UK streets."[2] Over 80% of the heroin seized in Western Europe has come through the Western Balkans.[3] The United Kingdom also has a major commitment to the region, most notably in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the High Representative, the commander of the incoming EUFOR, and the outgoing deputy commander of NATO's SFOR are all British citizens.[4] Additionally, the 1 May 2004 accession to the EU of ten new states has brought the region into sharper focus. Dr Nicholas Whyte, Europe Programme Director at the International Crisis Group, told us "that the Western Balkans are right inside the enlarged European Union, once Bulgaria and Romania join, as they are programmed to do in 2007. Then you have an island of territory completely surrounded by EU member states with which the EU is going to have to come to significant terms sooner rather than later, whose stability is crucial. It now becomes an internal rather than external issue for the European Union."[5] In this context, our inquiry sought to establish how the United Kingdom might best contribute to the stability of the Western Balkans, by reducing the likelihood of conflict, promoting economic development and moving towards the eventual accession of the Balkans into the EU and NATO. We chose to focus the inquiry on the stability of the region, looking in particular at Serbia and Montenegro (SaM), Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Kosovo, and Macedonia.

1   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2000-20001, Government policy towards the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the wider region following the fall of Milosevic, HC 246 Back

2   Ev 61 Back

3   Ibid. Back

4   We discuss Bosnia and Herzegovina in greater detail below. See section 6. Back

5   Ev 41 Back

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Prepared 23 February 2005